Navy invites comment on GOA training environmental analysis

Proposed activities would include continued use of active sonar, weapons systems

U.S. Navy officials are inviting public comment through March 11 in development of the supplemental environmental impact statement/overseas environmental impact statement related to military training activities, in advance of future war games in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Navy is preparing the supplemental EIS/OEIS to renew required regulatory permits and authorizations required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Current federal regulatory permits and authorizations required for military training activities in the Gulf of Alaska will expire in April 2022.

The Navy has trained periodically in the Gulf of Alaska for over 30 years, to assure military readiness to defend the nation and its allies.

The timing of these exercises, in early May, is a source of concern to fish harvesters in particular, but also others concerned about the welfare of marine mammals and other wildlife. The biennial exercises, which involve a number of ships and aircraft, occur on the eve of the Copper River salmon opener in Prince William Sound. Military officials have held numerous community meetings in coastal communities to hear suggestions and complaints about the timing of these exercises, but maintain that given military logistics, early May is the only time that works.

Among those commenting through Feb. 11 was marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, who continues to advocate for reducing the exposure of sensitive marine species to the exercises by moving those war games to winter. Steiner was a marine conservation professor at the University of Alaska from 1980 to 2010, working in Prince William Sound, the Arctic and Anchorage.

Steiner asked the Navy to analyze various options for reducing the training area size, moving it further offshore, and avoiding all seamount areas, as another reasonable mitigation opportunity.   Steiner also asked the Navy to analyze the efficacy of independent onboard scientific observers during the exercises, to monitor and verify compliance with all mitigation measures.

In this new supplemental EIS, the Navy will analyze a proposed action where activities are the same as the actions presented in the 2011 GOA Final EIS/OEIS and the 2016 GOA final Supplemental EIS/OEIS, which are to continue periodic military training activities in the Temporary Maritime Activities Area in the Gulf.

The Navy is proposing activities including the continued use of active sonar and weapon systems that may use non-explosive or explosive munitions at sea in the Gulf study area, while using marine species mitigation measures.

Navy officials said they plan to update previous environmental impact analyses with new information and analytical methods the Navy has developed and used since 2016.

These would include improved acoustic models, updated marine mammal densities and updated marine species criteria and thresholds as well as current and best available science and analytical methods. Also included would be a review of procedural mitigation measures, where appropriate, and consider additional geographic and/or temporal mitigation measures, where application, the Navy said.

The invitation to comment is open to government agencies, elected officials, community organizations and individuals.

All comments must be postmarked or received online by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on March 11, for consideration in the draft supplemental EIS/OEIS. Written comments may be submitted via the project website at goaeis.com or by mail to:

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest

Attention: GOA Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager

1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203

Silverdale, WA 98315-1101

Navy officials said that since they have engaged in both National Environmental Policy at-related public involvement and extensive outreach in Alaska on an ongoing basis, they will not be holding public scoping meetings during the outreach period. Open house meetings are to be held after release of the draft supplemental EIS/OEIS, which is tentatively scheduled for release this coming winter.

More information is available on the project website at goaeis.com.